Gravel Worlds. This race has been on my radar for the past two years, but my lack of car and organization kept me away. Not this year! Plans were set up with Dennis Grelk and Christina Anthony to haul my bike and I to Lincoln. Corey “Cornbread” Godfrey opened his house for us so we would have some beds to sleep on. I was set!
As far as race planning went I didn’t do too much research. I stuck with my same set-up that I had for Dirty Kanza. The Trek Boone 9 with Bontrager 38c CX0’s, running tubeless. Two water bottles with Roctane, a cameback with water, Gu-chomps, cheesy peanut-butter crackers, and ginger candies lining a Revelate Gas Tank. My cue-sheet holder/Garmin mount have been refined throughout the past 6 or so endurance rides to mimic this set up from Salsa Cycles. I was once again wearing my Gore bibs and a new Tacopacalypse Team jersey! I loaded the GPX file into my Garmin and remarked at how little climbing there was. I knew 7,000 feet was nothing to scoff at, but I was excited to push myself during this race. I knew what I could do alone during a longer ride, but I wanted to try and ride with people. I typically fall in line with one other person during these rides, or no one. I knew if I rode with a group I would be able to set a better benchmark during this ride. I was thinking around 15-16 mph. Plus I was wearing my new fancy heart-rate monitor, even more data to analyze!
But anyways, back to the good stuff. I was in the car with Dennis and Christie by 2 and we were headed West. I promptly fell asleep, hoping to wake when we arrived. I almost slept the whole way, extremely exciting. We arrived at Cycle Works and checked with, receiving our freshly hole-punched and laminated post cards as number plates, I am pretty happy I picked a Super Woman card. Friendly faces popped up and I got some good ole’ fashioned hugs and high-fives. Matt Wills, Elisabeth Reinkordt, and Matt Gersib were just a few of the faces I need to see. The family that I have met through these races is priceless. Some of the best people in the world.
Pre-race dinner was pizza and a baked potato, I ate as much of both as possible. Just the right amount! Back at the Cornbread Homestead I readied my bike and bothered Rafal, a previous Gravel Worlds Champion. He answered my questions concerning the ride and I soon went to bed feeling more prepared than usual. Maybe it was the strong company I was keeping, but I was ready!
I woke up bright and early at 4:30, Dennis had to be to the start to help park cars. We arrived at the start a little late, but I was already awake after getting up so early, which was nice. I got out of the car, walked over to the start tent and realized I forgot my Camelback! Panic ensue! Christina called Dennis and he jogged my water bladder back to me. *sigh* Hopefully this would not be a sign of things to come. Within the next 8 minutes or so we were lined up and moving. I forgot to turn on my Garmin and whilst trying to do so on route bumped along the washboards. I made a mental note to avoid those at all cost. I fell into a quick pace with Josh Lederman, a fellow T.I finisher and friend from Iowa. We comfortably rode together for a while, talking about heart-rate and training. I have been wanting to get more serious with my training and he joked that he would be my coach..I haven’t forgotten that Josh! Together we rode on picking up some stragglers. The pace quickened and we nearly missed a turn, causing a slight tire bump. I didn’t like it, but I continued riding with the group of about 8 people. It was a strong group, Eric and his friend, Karen, a guy on a single-speed, and one other. As we rolled into the first lotto ticket checkpoint together I felt I was starting to get warmed up. I wasn’t so sure of the lotto ticket situation so I followed the gang into the gas station and without even being asked was handed a ticket by the cashier and I paid. At this point I saw Barry, and DIrty Dogs rider, who informed me Karen and I were the first ladies. With that in mind I decided to hop back on my bike, without Karen or even half of our group in tow, and leave with Josh. Not even a mile later our group reformed and we continued riding on.
The group fell into a pace line and Karen and I started commenting that this pace was faster than we normally held, 17-18 mph seemed a bit quick. We carried on though, chatting about our lives and how we ended up at Gravel Worlds. Everyone made fun of how young I looked, which in turn got me all riled up about being called a girl, more about that later. Onward to the first checkpoint. 50 some miles in and we were feeling great. Spirits were high, laughing and stretching happened and then back to the bikes. It was only a short jaunt to the next stop for another lotto ticket. Up until this point I hadn’t been keeping track of the mileage and I told myself I wouldn’t look until we were past the next stop. Another lotto ticket bought some miles later and I bravely changed the screen on my GPS from breadcrumb trail to numbers, looked down, and got a great surprise, 67 miles! 67 miles! Really! I was thinking somewhere around 40, shows how much I pay attention. Karen, Eric, and I rode on, with a couple other friends to keep us company. Our pace started to mesh a little better and the pace line made more sense. One more checkpoint at mile 70, then to another at mile 100. These miles floated by. I was comfortable, with incredibly strong, confident riding partners, and the sun still wasn’t trying to melt us. Good times!
At the 100 miles mark we hung out for a bit. We hung out long enough for me to hear someone else call me a girl, to which I responded with “Why does everyone call me a girl!? I am a lady!” Karen replied, “I like being called a girl!” I then realized everyone was curiously staring at me, I think they knew I was joking though. I am young for these events, I realize that. Karen is older than me by 20+ years, but she is badass and gives me hope that I will be that awesome when I am her age. I had learned a lot from her up until this point and I knew that last 50 miles were going to be worth it to stick with her. It also shows me how much I have to grow, I have so much space, time, and experience to gain. That excites me. I already get to accomplish my goals, but now I am going to set them higher and tougher because I know I can do it. Anyways, back to the race.
Further than halfway, but starting to feel the effects of pushing my pace. We reached this point faster than I have ever done a century on gravel. Granted having a pace line helped, but my noggin was starting to pound. Leaving the checkpoint I put my headphones on and told Karen I was going to zone out for a bit. We continued on side by side reveling in each others company and taking in the day together. We rolled into the next check point and meandered through a winery. That was great, I really did want a tour of grapes when really all I wanted to do was ride straight through them to the stop. At the checkpoint Karen and I were visibly starting to show signs of wear. Dust caked shins and bronzed forearms showed our time on the bike had been long, but we knew we were nearing the end point, literally and physically. As we were preparing to leave Kate on a single-speed showed up. She was the only lady we had seen all day and she surprised the crap out of me. Karen and I hurried up and left the checkpoint wondering what sort of pace Kate was keeping, another thing for my pounding head to try and reason with. The headache was lame. I was taking in water, food, and extra electrolytes so I could not figure out where I had gone wrong. I didn’t bring any ibrouprophen so I just had to deal with it. Karen and I were still riding together at this point. We were working together and chasing each other up hills. Somewhere within the last 20 miles Eric also passed up, we laughed as we watched him effortlessly ride away from us. Bye mister, he was going to finish strong.
I kept looking over my shoulder, wondering where Kate was. We saw her once more at the last lotto ticket stop, but we were leaving just as she arrived. Karen kept reassuring me she would have to hold a faster pace than us to catch and then overcome us. Man was that getting to me. My already drained brain was still pounding and now it was trying to make me worry! No way! Karen’s computer had died previous to these miles so every once in a while she would ask me what mileage we were at. My response, simple and short, “16”, “12”, “6.” The home stretch was there. We continued on like we had for the previous 140 some miles, side by side, matching our pace, enjoying the company. I was attached to Karen, it goes back to my rowing days again. I relentlessly follow people. I find comfort in the shared suffering. I was having my own experience, and it was only made better by this new friend, who not only 8 hours ago I had never met in my whole life. We rolled onto pavement and knew this was the homestretch. Neither of us pushed the other, Karen had already made the decision to let me take the W. I made the decision to share it. Crossing the line Corey asked us who the winner was, Karen pointed at me and I put my head down on the handlebars. It wasn’t mine to have, the victory was ours. Sharing a hug and a jersey we walked our bikes towards the shade and gratefully accepted burritos and water. Hearing shouts of “Nice job ladies!” and a little bit of laughing I knew I could relax finally. Sitting down next to Eric I tried to stretch my legs out and promptly cramped. OUCH! Laughing from the pain, I gingerly asked Eric, “Will you please straighten my leg out?” That is when I knew I had done my best, my body was done. I had surprised myself again. Pushing my pace and completing the race faster than I imagined. My favorite part of the race, that feeling of the end. Relishing at the end of pain, the end of sun-burn, the end of bumpy gravel rocks. I love every minute of these races, the bad and the good. My headache was nearly gone and I was returning to a normal state. Normal after 153 miles of riding my bicycle.